Finding friends abroad in your 30's and beyond!
48% of women who move country say that finding a new social life is their biggest worry. I can totally relate from the times I have hit refresh moving from the UK to Zambia, Belize, South Africa and four years ago, Spain. Sometimes it gets really lonely, starting over, not knowing anyone, and having to search and “date” new possible friends abroad.
Sometimes you just need friends around with whom you can just be yourself with straight away, who “get you”, don’t judge you and with whom you can share your feelings with without worrying about what they might think. The kind of friends that you can laugh until you nearly pee your pants with, the kind of friends whose shoulders you can cry on, who you can chill with, who you can go out with and party, have over for dinner etc. You need your tribe. And when you move country or if you are a long-term traveller this can be a real challenge.
Personally, I noticed that I when I hit the 30 mark it felt that bit harder to meet new people, I wasn’t going out as much in the evenings and I had a sense that people already had their friendship groups solidified and perhaps there wasn’t room for me to be included. However, I quickly got over this fear and within the first six months of being in Madrid I had created a very strong friendship group most of whom I have stayed incredibly close with four years into living here.
In fact, I have been ridiculously lucky with these people… here are some examples of how damn amazing these friends in Madrid are… once when we got back from holiday we found our fridge filled with food from a friend who had our spare key, during my pregnancy one dear friend would come round to our flat once a week and cook us a yummy supper, when Remmy was born six months ago our friends grouped together and every two days someone would drop off a home-cooked meal at our door so we didn’t have to cook at all for the first month of baby’s life, we haven’t had to buy a single item of clothing for Remmy as our friends have given us everything we need – literally everything including a stroller, a sling etc. and my darling friends also organised a surprise bachelorette party for me and then a couple of years later a surprise baby shower.
I mean wow. My eyes are filling with tears of gratitude as I write this… I feel so so blessed to have made such strong friendships here with such an amazing mix of international and Spanish people. So…. how did these amazing friends come to be? I am often asked by friends and clients alike for advice on how to make friends abroad when moving to a new country so I here is some of what I have learned…
How to make new friends abroad
Talk to strangers. Yup, be bold, be brave and get over yourself. Talk to the person sitting next to you – on the plane, in a restaurant, in language class, at a networking event, your dance teacher. One of my closest Spanish friends I met on an airplane and thanks to Marinma, I was introduced me to a whole new line of work and as a result my life changed exponentially.
I got so close to one of my classmates in Spanish lessons that myself and my husband were the celebrants at their wedding. I have met numerous amazing women at networking events who now form a strong sisterhood for me. Our landlord and his wife are some of our closest friends here, just stay open to the possibility of friendship occurring anywhere and see what happens!
So be brave. Ask the person serving you coffee how they are, build up a rapport with them, chat to the person on the bus next to you, you never know they might just end up being your bestie! Friends appear in mysterious ways.
Join online platforms where you get to meet people. Here are some of my favourites…
- She Hit Refresh – ok, you are already part of it, why not use the FB group to see if there are any other members in your area and meet up!
- Lean In is a nonprofit organization and online community dedicated to helping all women achieve their ambitions. With monthly Lean In circles happening in many cities around the world, Lean In is an incredible source of inspiration and support. Search for a Lean In circle near you.
- MeetUp brings people together in thousands of cities to do more of what they want to do in life. Sign up and search for MeetUp groups according to your interests.
- Girl Gone International is a thriving, fast growing worldwide non-profit community of 140,000+ international women with local communities in over 130 cities. Join the GGI community in your city.
- Escape the City is a global community for anyone looking to do work that matters to them. They have meetings in many cities around the world and these are a great place to meet interesting people and to get inspired. I made two great friends through this network and also got the opportunity to give a talk at one of their events and gained a number of clients through this.
Join classes. Whether you are passing through a city or you have just moved there, joining classes be it cooking, fitness, painting whatever, is a fantastic way to meet people.
Put the word out. On FaceBook put out a post that you are moving to X or that you have moved there and ask if anyone knows anyone there that they can link you to. It is so great to be connected to friends of friends (be they local or international) they can really help show you the ropes of a new place and make you feel at home! This totally works with short term stays in different cities too and I have made long term friends from short stints in different cities around the world this way!
Find a slice of home away from home. If you ever get homesick, seek out a restaurant or cafe from your home country and go hang out there once in awhile so you can experience a little slice of home. It is worth mentioning here the longstanding debate of having international friends vs. local friends in your city. To put it bluntly, my feeling is have a mix of both. For a more detailed discussion on the ins and outs of this see my blog post on my website.
How to deepen those friendships
So you’ve made friends abroad, but you miss that sense of community that you had ‘back home’ now it is time to build those new friendships and to invest time and energy into them.
Think quality over quantity. I have tended to be like a labrador with making friends in the past, I just wanted to be friends with everybody! But of course, that approach doesn’t work and friendships require putting time into them. Studies show that we are most happy when we have four or five close friends. Any more than 10 key friends means we are less likely to be happy. Personally, I spread the net wide and then over time nurtured those friendships where I felt a deep connection, which meant that some friendships were just for a season, and that is ok.
Do stuff together! I think of friendships in layers – when you go to someone’s house, it deepens the friendship by a layer, same again when you meet someone’s partner or family, even more so when you go on a trip together. Organise to go to a class together where you learn something new or do a weekend away. I always feel so much closer to friends once we have had a trip away together, lived together in the same space and shared new experiences together.
Over time share more with them about yourself – this gives them permission to do the same. And then… connections deepen, trust is built, vulnerability is shown and your friendship starts to be cemented.
Family Suppers – when living in South Africa we developed a concept we called ‘Family Suppers.’ The last Friday of every month a group of about 10 of us friends all had supper together in someone’s home. We would rotate whose home we would visit. It created a deep sense of belonging, deepening of friendship and a whole lot of laughter.
In Madrid there is a close group of us who have brunch together every week, the continuity of it means that we get to see each other on the good days and on the days when things are rough, we get to support one another and learn and inspire each other. These kinds of things have made a huge difference in my life, plus I have been able to introduce wonderful people to each other and to watch those friendships blossom.
Start making friends in a foreign country
Enjoy the process and all the joy that comes from building a new tribe that makes you feel at home wherever you are in the world. I loved a BBC article that Kim McDaniel, one of the SHR members, shared in the Facebook group about travel and feeling a sense of belonging between an unlikely friendship of an 87 year old lady from Ireland and a 26 year old woman from India.
The older lady said to her young friend “You told me once that you travelled in order to find out where you fit. I hope you understand now that you don’t fit into places, you fit into people. You will always fit where you have people to fit with.” I hope that you find the people you fit with.
Connect with Katie via email, or on her Website, Instagram or Facebook. You may also be interested in her free guide ‘The Ultimate Guide to Thrive: 21 Tips to help you to find your feet in a foreign land’ available on her website.